Have you ever thought you understood a conversation only to find out later you weren’t on the same page? I didn’t realize how often this occurs until I had kids. Often the way they will interpret a situation or repeat back a story is much different than the way we experienced it or heard it. This fact highlights an area where we can purposefully parent. It is our job as their parent to help them interpret situations and the world around them. We also need to help them learn how to respond in a God-honoring way.
Creating a safe place for conversation didn’t even cross our mind until our oldest was in first grade. One night at the dinner table, we were discussing the happenings of the day. We were going around the table sharing our highs and lows of that particular day. When it was Hannah’s turn, she froze and refused to tell us her low for the day. The more we pressed the more adamant she became that she was not going to talk. No matter what we said, she refused to talk! Obviously, something was bothering her so we let her pass on sharing in front of her siblings.
After supper I took Hannah into the living room and asked her privately what had happened. She immediately burst into tears and refused to tell me the story. I explained that she could tell me anything, but she kept begging me not to make her tell. In that moment I had to make a decision: Do I make her tell or do I let her keep it a secret? I know that there are times for both, but I knew in my heart this was one time that I needed to push through and make her tell me what happened. I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s guidance!
How Do You start?
We went up to my bedroom and sat on my bed. I started the conversation by telling her that I love her and will always love her no matter what. Then I explained that one benefit of a mother-daughter relationship is that we can talk about anything and everything. I was on her team. It was my job as her mom to help her make decisions and help her know what to do.
The first important step is to create an atmosphere in your home where you allow questions to happen. The saying, “no question is a dumb question” should be one of the rules in your home. Allowing kids to be curious and explore helps you to enter into their world. It gives you the opportunity to help them correctly interpret things.
Next the atmosphere needs to be welcoming. Not full of criticism or ridicule but one that allows the kid to explore their thoughts and feelings. I don’t know about you, but talking through my thoughts helps me process confusing situations. When I run things past my husband or friend the conversation helps me come to a better conclusion.
Holy Spirit Is Our Guide:
While I was sitting there silently praying, Holy Spirit stepped in and gave me a great idea! We titled it “Special Date on Mommy’s Bed.” Any time she wanted to talk we would go up to the privacy of my room. There she could ask me anything, tell me anything or discuss any situation. It was a safe place for her to share. I could help her figure out what to do. I also explained that if she had made a mistake this would not be a time to give out punishment. Instead, it would be a time to discuss how to respond better in the future. I reassured her that this was a safe place and she could always talk with me.
She thought about it and made the decision to tell me what had happened. After many LONG pauses, she finally got the story out. At recess that day they created a fort with guards. To enter into the fort, you had to say the secret word. She was embarrassed that she didn’t know what the word meant. And she felt terrible for saying the word so that she could enter into the fort. She was convinced that because the password was secret it was therefore a bad word. This guilt had affected her throughout the rest of the day.
My heart had all different kinds of feels. I was anxious to find out what word they were using that would have caused her so much pain. Since I have a terrible poker face, I also tried to prep myself to respond in a loving way when she spoke the word. So, there I sat, waiting until she had mustered up enough courage to speak the mysterious word. The terrible, naughty word. After another long pause, she opened her little mouth and whispered, “Peace”. It took everything in me not to burst out, “WHAT???” or start laughing. My sweet daughter was distraught over a word that meant the exact opposite of what she was feeling!
This experience was eye-opening to me. As her mom, I quickly learned it was my responsibility to help her navigate this confusing world. A key part of the job was to help make sure she was interpreting things appropriately. And the only way for this to happen was to create space for conversations to happen. This was the beginning of a lifelong habit in our family of “special dates on my bed”.
Nowadays the boys have joined in, and both Nathan and I are involved. Today the dates have gone beyond our bed to include ice cream shops, car rides or backyard S’Mores. It doesn’t matter the location…what matters is the environment.
5 Key Tips!
- Get a good poker face! Things that seem like the end of the world to them will make you want to roll your eyes or laugh. Make sure you don’t! This would deter them from sharing anything else in the future. You have to create a safe place where feelings are validated, not mocked. We can’t give the impression we are making fun of them in their vulnerability.
- Not a lecture but a conversation! It is important to not flip into lecture mode when they start sharing. They need to begin to learn to process through and come up with the right conclusions on their own. As hard as it is, listen more than you talk. Ask questions instead of giving answers. Learn about their heart instead of trying to fix the situation. Make recommendations instead of demands. Work as a team instead of a dictatorship.
- Start now! When should you start these types of conversations? NOW! It is never to early to start. If they can talk, you can listen. Helping them name their emotion is a great way to start the conversation. When something happens, it is helpful to help them name the emotion. “Oh that made you happy” or “That made you sad, didn’t it?” This helps them to start understand what they are feeling.
- It is NOT too late! If your children are older and this hasn’t been a focus in the past, don’t worry. It is never too late to start. They might resist it at first but start slow and keep at it. Eventually they will let you in. The more you have this as a normal part of your family’s rhythm the more the kids will start opening up on their own.
- Open-ended questions! To keep a conversation going more than two minutes it is best to ask questions that can not be answered with yes or no. Here are some examples:
- Tell me about one good thing that happened today?
- What made you happy or excited today?
- Tell me about one bad or sad thing that happened today?
- What is one frustrating or embarrassing thing that happened?
- What was your high and low for the day?
How have you created a space for open communication in your family? A space where they are free to share their most intimate thoughts and questions? What is one step you can do to begin your first conversation now! We’d love to hear how it worked for you!